The newest Iain Banks Q&A is up (this is a few days late but I only just saw it a few minutes ago). In this one, he answers questions about killing off characters, his novel Walking on Glass, the existence of gods in the Culture, technological singularity, whether or not any of his books have been banned, and how disappointing it must be to live in Britain instead of the Culture.

In case anyone missed them, here are links to the first two Q&As:

The first book blogger discussion week has come to an end. (For more information on the origins of this, you can read about it at OF Blog of the Fallen.) It was a great idea and I’m looking forward to the next one covering Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling in December. Although I didn’t think it was a particularly enjoyable book, Camp Concentration was a great selection since it offered more to talk about than a lot of the more entertaining books that are out there.

It was fun to read everybody’s reviews and I think getting a few different perspectives on the novel was helpful in appreciating it more. I found it helpful to actually spend the week reading different reviews and comments instead of writing my review and then just moving on to the next book. Reading the reviews and comments and writing my own comments also made me think of a few things I wish I had further clarified in my review so I’m going to write about them now.

My main issue with Camp Concentration was that I didn’t feel like I knew enough about the characters to really care about what happened to them or be sad about some pretty harsh circumstances. However, this novel was still fairly character-driven, especially taking into consideration the fact that this was not common for science fiction novels written around the same time. It was told entirely through the eyes of one character and detailed his life at Camp Archimedes and his transformation throughout the story. It still did not entirely work for me (although his characterization was certainly better than some of the older science fiction authors such as Asimov), but I think it is important to remember that it is a fairly old book as far as science fiction is concerned. This is why I’d be interested in finding out more about how Disch’s work was influential and which authors would claim him as an inspiration.

I also stated in my review that I did not feel the book was particularly original or challenging, and I think this could have used some further clarification. It did not seem particularly original to me because there have been plenty of books about corrupt governments treating their citizen’s lives as a means to an end, enhancing intelligence in some way, experimenting on humans, life as a prisoner, etc. Also, the exploration of the relationships between intelligence and knowledge and intelligence and madness were nothing new to me, either. Upon further reflection, combining these elements with literary references and the way it was put together was probably more original than I gave it credit for being. The pieces were somewhat standard but the whole was not unoriginal.

By saying the book was not “challenging” I did not mean it was not profound or thoughtful. It did contain much to think about – it’s just that the parts that stood out to me were ideas that I’d already read about before. Therefore, it did not challenge my worldview – I never stopped and thought about how I’d never thought about something that way before or changed the way I viewed an idea. For instance, I already thought that IQ tests are not a great measure of intelligence and that genius is often a matter of luck before reading about it in this novel. There was never one of those “Aha” moments for me – which doesn’t mean someone else will not have one when reading it (or that I might not have some were I to reread it).

I rambled a bit more than I meant to… I do think it was one of those books that was far more fun to discuss than it was to actually read, so it is a great book for reading groups.

Post-Weird Thoughts has an announcement about the next Blogger Book Club Discussion. The next book will be Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling. I have yet to read a book by Sterling and have been curious about his work so it will be a good opportunity to give it a try. The next discussion will take place from December 8 – 12. The announcement has more details on the selected book, and if you would like to participate, leave a comment at Post-Weird Thoughts.

Oct
17
2008

I was hoping to get up at least one review this week but it turned out to be a busier week than normal and I didn’t have much spare time in the evenings. This weekend I plan to get up a review on Probability Moon by Nancy Kress and perhaps a “post-discussion” post on Camp Concentration. If I can just get that one review done, I will be most of the way caught up since I just have the one on Elizabeth Bear’s “The Stratford Man” duology left other than that. I’m reading two long books right now to give myself some time to get caught up – The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt and The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Since I’ve barely had any time to read this week, that’s working out well as far as not reading more than writing goes.

Clarkesworld Books is temporarily open again for those of you who are addicted like I am. I’m still trying to figure out just what to order and have been working on narrowing down my list of potential buys. If anyone has any feedback on why I should or should not get the following books let me know:

Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh
The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
A Sundial in a Grave by Mary Gentle
Nekropolis by Maureen McHugh
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park (they have signed copies of this one)
Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds (I’ll probably wait on this one since I apparently need to be on vacation to read his books and I’m sure I won’t be having one of those for a while)
Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (think this is a must buy from what I’ve heard)

They’re all fairly cheap (about $8 for most of the trade paperbacks and $3-$4 for mass market) and I’m not sure what to get. Other than Yolen, McKinley and Reynolds, I haven’t read anything by the authors in the above list (yet).

Camp Concentration
by Thomas M. Disch
192pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 6.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.81/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.81/5

Today marks the beginning of the first in what will hopefully be many Blogger Book Club Discussions. Larry from OF Blog of the Fallen came up with the idea of selecting an older book every month to discuss on various blogs. It’s a casual discussion with an entire week for posting reviews and no obligation to participate every month. The October discussion book is the dystopia Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch, which was originally published in 1968.

During the 1970s, America is at war. The poet Louis Sacchetti has been imprisoned for dodging the draft, finding five years in jail preferable to life as a soldier, possible death, and participating in a cause he believes to be morally wrong. The story begins when Louis has finally been allowed to have some paper and immediately begins writing a journal about his time as an inmate. Shortly after the writer has started his daily musings, there is a gap in time between entries and it is noted that the format has changed from handwriting to typing. Louis then tells of being snatched away from this prison to a new prison known as Camp Archimedes, which one of his captors promises will be a better place for him with movie nights, access to a library, coffee, and a weekly allowance of funds. In return, Louis must continue writing his journal and recounting his factual observations.

Soon Louis discovers the real purpose of Camp Archimedes – its residents are part of an experiment to test Pallidine, a new drug derived from syphilis spirochete intended to enhance intelligence. Those who have taken the medication are becoming smarter; however, any person who has taken it dies approximately nine months later. This leads the inmates to study alchemy and ways to create an elixir of youth so they do not meet this fate of an early death.


Camp Concentration has a very academic feel and was reminiscent of books I read in college because of the journal format, the references to literature such as Faust, and the discussion of concepts such as genius being inseparable from madness without the involvement of the factor of luck. It was a book that seemed to be more about ideas and making points through plot and character than one that was about plot and character featuring some contributing ideas. This book fell more into the category of interesting than enjoyable – while I’m glad I read it, it wouldn’t be my ideal choice for curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and a book on a lazy day.

The weakest aspect of the novel for me was that I didn’t form any emotional connection whatsoever to anyone in the book, including the narrator. My favorite books are those where the characters take on a life of their own and seem like real people. In spite of the fact that the entire book is written in first person perspective through journal entries, which would afford the most intimate look into a character’s mind, the personalities in the book always seemed very distanced to me, as a reader. Although we know about how Louis struggles with his religious faith as a Catholic, his strong views about the war, and his love of poetry, the book never delves into why the narrator has specific viewpoints, likes, dislikes, and beliefs. It is just expressed as a fact – which is fitting with the instructions Louis was given on writing in his journal and with the overall tone of the story. However, a story very tragic at heart – about people who are condemned to die by a corrupt society to gain knowledge for said society to use – failed to move me in any way since it never made me care about what happened to anyone in the book.

This is a book that would probably benefit from a reread since I’m sure pieces of it would come together better after knowing what was coming. On the first read through, I found myself feeling like it was not that original or challenging since it did not introduce me to concepts I had not encountered and thought about before (which may also have something to do with the fact that it was written before I was born – I would be interested in knowing how much influence it had on later works). This makes me think that I probably missed a lot since it is supposed to be a very thoughtful book – or perhaps my expectations based on what I’d heard about this book were just too high.

Camp Concentration is an engaging story containing a vast amalgam of ideas, and while I am glad I read it, it did not leave much of an impact on me.

6.5/10

Other Blogger Book Club reviews of Camp Concentration:

Maledicte
by Lane Robins
464pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.3/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.56/5

Maledicte is the debut novel of Lane Robins, who is writing a loose sequel to this book that takes place in the same world but features different characters. Since all the loose ends are tied up in Maledicte and the story arc definitely feels like it has a conclusive ending, it works well as a stand alone book. The concept and plot of this character driven fantasy were not particularly complex, but it was very readable and kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next.

The Earl of Last has no heirs other than an illegitimate son Janus, whom he captures unwillingly from a life in the slums and teaches the ways of the court. Miranda, Janus’s childhood friend and lover who is left behind, runs away to the temple of Black-Winged Ani, the goddess of love and vengeance. The people no longer believe in the gods, yet when Miranda leaves the temple she has a mysterious black sword and a thirst for vengeance that will not be quenched. She disguises herself as a young man, takes the name of Maledicte, and vows to find Janus and his father. (Note: From this point on, Maledicte will be referred to as a male since he has shed his identity as the woman Miranda – and that’s how it was in the book.)

While searching for the Earl of Last, Maledicte intrudes in the home of the sickly Baron Vornatti, who also harbors animosity for the earl after he slandered his sister’s name. Lonely and intrigued by the handsome youth, Vornatti coerces him into staying the night in his house with the aid of his servant Gilly, who slipped a drug into Maledicte’s wine that put him to sleep. Vornatti teaches Maledicte the ways of the court, where he becomes a controversial figure with his poor temperament yet manages to win the favor of the king. Maledicte awaits the arrival of Janus and his reaction to him – if Janus no longer loves him, he will kill him, but if he does, he will include him in his plans for revenge.


This is a story for those who enjoy flawed characters – perhaps flawed is even a bit of an understatement. The main character is Maledicte himself with a lot of focus on Gilly and some on Janus. Maledicte is possessed by the goddess, giving him a penchant for bloodlust, and he is selfish and not a particularly nice person due to the fact that he kills rather easily. He only cares about Janus and Gilly, with whom he forms a friendship early in the story. However, his motives are at least somewhat understandable since he is driven by Black-Winged Ani’s desire for vengeance and there are a few times when he shows glimmers of human feeling. Janus is even less likable than Maledicte and has no excuse other than greed and a desire for power. The most likable character is easily Gilly, who is generally good but still far from perfect. Gilly loves Maledicte but tells him he will not kill for him, yet he often finds himself committing actions he disagrees with morally in order to protect Maledicte. (Janus also hates Gilly because of his feelings toward Maledicte and would kill him if not for the fact that it would displease Maledicte, which makes him seem even more despicable.) Even though I enjoy reading about anti-heroes, I found I had real empathy for Gilly and liked reading about him the most.

The plot, court intrigue, and character relationships were very uncomplicated, making this an easy and fun book to read. The writing style is more convoluted, bordering on what many would refer to as purple prose, but I did not think it was excessive (of course, I like more verbose writing as long as it is not to the point of being so descriptive it is boring).

The perspective is always third person, although whose perspective it is changes often. At times, it is Gilly, occasionally it is Maledicte himself or the king or even for a short time that of Kritos, the man who actually stole Janus away from Maledicte by order of the earl. Some may find this distracting but it did not bother me at all.

At times, I did find myself questioning character actions. Why would the baron take in an intruder who just appears in his home one night? Why would a nice guy like Gilly be so enamored of Maledicte when he was so evil at times? Why would the king and many other court members be so fascinated by Maledicte when he is so disagreeable and disobedient to the rules? Mostly, I thought they made sense after some reflection, though. The baron was alone other than Gilly with an illness that confined him to bed a lot so he was probably glad for the company, especially after finding out their common enmity for the earl. Gilly was an empathic person and had the gift of seeing the gods’ work so he knew what a large part of Maledicte’s problem was even when others did not and would have been the type to want to help him. As far as the king and some women of the court go, I suppose Maledicte was somewhat mysterious, although I’m not finding the answer to that question comes as easily as the other two.

Maledicte was a dark tale containing some characters I grew very attached to, although they did not seem to contain great depth. I did feel that the story was lacking something I cannot put my finger on in its simplicity, but it was a good debut novel and I am looking forward to reading the next book set in this world.

7/10

Read the Prologue